ARMA²⁰²⁰ in Moscow

  • After years in the wilderness, the storied promoter makes a triumphant return in its home city.
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  • Following a series of last-minute cancellations by the authorities in 2016 and 2017, the most respected electronic music community in Russia, ARMA17, froze its operations. The police's reasons were absurd, and the truth remains a mystery to the general public. At first, ARMA concentrated on throwing parties around the world, occasionally testing the waters in Moscow and St. Petersburg with label nights—which, for all their merits, weren't up to ARMA's spectacular standards. Last year, the community found its home at Mutabor, a Moscow superclub opened in collaboration with three other top promoters. Save Festival, once a staple of the ARMA calendar, was revived with success in November. A proper comeback, it seemed, wasn't far away. Last Saturday, ARMA threw ARMA²⁰²⁰, its first large-scale event in Moscow since the raids and cancellations. The party ran until Monday. More than 6,000 people expressed their interest on Facebook. When I arrived at Mutabor, a former machinery plant in the city's south east, it only took 15 minutes to get inside, which was lucky—it was -11°C. I didn't recognise the club from my first visit in summer. The new entrance led to an underground hall, which housed the Under stage. The cover of Ena's Wired EP, the latest release on the ARMA label, glowed red and black behind the booth.
    I'd need another article to describe all the event's art pieces and interior details. Sroeng Santi's "Kuen Kuen Lueng Lueng" (a Thai cover of "Iron Man" by Black Sabbath) was playing in a greenhouse with palm trees, a billiard table and moving pictures of waterfalls. Trick mirrors near one of the toilets became a selfie spot. A large beating heart throbbed away under the Main Room, surrounded by huge collages of creatures on the walls. Upstairs, a gigantic flashing horse looked like it was jumping out of a circle of laser beams. The horse appeared after two audiovisual concerts. Purba's accelerating industrial felt like the start of a post-traumatic therapy session, the intense mood bolstered by footage of police fighting protesters. Demdike Stare performed live alongside the visual artist Michael England, who set shots of seagulls and old punk rockers, wax figures and selfie-taking tourists, to the duo's post-techno soundtrack. When dancers on screen started voguing to "Pile Up," the crowd cheered. After Samuel Kerridge's relentless rhythms, Abelle, one of ARMA's founders, got a handle on the dance floor with acid lines and tracks like "Deep In My Electro Mind" by Mono Junk Vs Mesak. I was looking forward to Umwelt's live show after his fiery set in St. Petersburg last October left a mark. The French breakbeat master bombarded the floor early on with "Density#4," though the pauses between tracks killed the vibe. When I returned to Main in the morning, I saw a man meditating near the speakers, holding his nose and sitting in some advanced asana, while Julia Govor played "The Bells" by Jeff Mills.
    In Medium, the party's second room, the music ran non-stop for 30 hours. Right after Tin Man's live set I was surprised to see Kamran Sadeghi on stage—he was scheduled to play on Sunday under his EMIT alias. His polyrhythmic techno, played using modular synths and an Octatrack, was my highlight of the weekend. Later, I met Sadeghi at the bar and asked if he was still going to play on Sunday. "Who knows?" He replied. "It's ARMA." After getting some rest, I returned on Sunday at 7 PM. Anthony Linell was luring the audience into dungeon-synth hypnosis, while the visual artist Ali M. Demirel presented close-ups of Icelandic nature. The Moscow band Inturist (AKA Интурист) delivered a charmingly absurd concert of sax and electronics. Then the UK band Blurt closed the Main Room, provoking magical afterglow dancing with their harsh yet jazzy post-punk. Before leaving to catch my train to St. Petersburg, I passed through Medium, which was still rocking. Denis Kaznacheev was thumping out house flecked with twirly effects. I was sad to leave.